When you’re responsible for rolling out tens or hundreds of Macs in your company, an automated build process is necessary. Could you imagine having to configure each machine individually, and manually installing your company’s software packages? This might be practical in a small company, but it’s a huge drain of resources in a mid-sized office. Luckily, Apple provides several tools to address this problem. They are OS X NetInstall, System Image Utility, and Apple Software Restore (ASR).
NetInstall is a service provided with the $20 OS X Server. It supports three primary ways of delivering standard builds to your Macs.
- In a NetBoot deployment, your system image is hosted on OS X Server. Each client Mac boots up from the network, not its local hard drive. This is a useful configuration in a lab environment or kiosks, when there is no need for individualized machines. Since there is no local drive in the picture, OS Server provides temporary storage, called shadow files. If permanent user storage is required, network home directories can be used.
- NetInstall allows you to boot your Macs and run the OS X installer – all over the network. After the NetInstall is complete, your Macs boot off their local hard drives.
- NetRestore will write a preconfigured disk image to Macs on your network. This is a faster process than running the OS X installer, since the NetRestore process is essentially just cloning a volume over the network. NetRestore images can be served to Macs using the OS X Server NetInstall service or ASR. The primary consideration when selecting a delivery mechanism is the number of Macs need to be restored at once. The NetInstall service supports unicast networking, so it’s easy to flood a network with too many simultaneous installations. ASR supports multicasting, which will be less of a network hog. The ASR service can be run on any Mac, not just an OS X Server.
Apple provides the System Image Utility to create disk images. It can be use locally mounted volumes for NetBoot or NetRestore. Likewise, SIU can use the Install OS X Mountain Lion package for NetInstall images. In addition, SUI packs a powerful workflow editor, based on Automator. For NetInstall images, you can automatically add software packages and run scripts after the OS installation is complete. Other workflow actions include naming your client Macs, enabling unattended installations, adding user accounts, and partitioning the drive.